Dodgy lawyers are stealing hundreds of millions from their clients by looting trust accounts, claims a Sunday Times report. It says Peter Cowling and Christiaan Janeke are the latest lawyers to be struck off the roll, and are facing criminal charges for allegedly stealing at least R65m from their clients, many of whom were pensioners. Cowling (70) also allegedly misappropriated R1m from his church. The money was allegedly paid into his trust account after he offered to assist in the sale of church land. The two men, from Brakpan, and Janeke’s son, also a lawyer, are being investigated by the Hawks. Cowling’s assets have been attached following an application to the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) by one of his alleged victims. The Law Society of SA reportedly told the newspaper 49 lawyers had been struck off the roll last year – 24 of them for plundering trust accounts. And the Attorneys Fidelity Fund said it had paid out more than R745m over eight years to South Africans fleeced by their trusted legal advisers. To date, it has received claims totalling R82m in connection with Cowling and Janeke. Almost R19m has been paid out. LSSA co-chair Jan van Rensburg said theft of money from property sales and winding up of deceased estates was on the increase. In the year ended July, 11 230 complaints had been lodged against lawyers. ‘The theft of RAF money seems to have gone down and the trend is that conveyancing theft is increasing because there’s so much money in properties these days that the temptation is there.’

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Cowling and Janeke blame each other for their clients’ missing millions, says another Sunday Times report. Cowling reportedly said he had never stolen from his clients and that the judgment against him was fraught with inconsistencies. ‘It’s highly unlikely that I will appeal the judgment because I haven’t got any money. All the funds I had available for my retirement I paid into the account as soon as I realised there was shortage of funds. I didn’t take the money in the first place. I was horrified because clients were prejudiced by the lack of funds. People who had supported us over the years were suffering.’ In papers in the High Court for the application to strike the two off the roll, Cowling said Janeke had cashed crossed cheques meant for the trust account. Janeke denied this in an affidavit, saying Cowling was in charge of the finances and that he had left the practice with only his ‘gown’. Cowling, who has been an attorney for 42 years, claimed that certain files had been destroyed when part of the building from which the firm operated collapsed. In court paper, Janeke said: ‘If given the opportunity, I shall clearly demonstrate that I did not misappropriate any trust funds and that the misappropriation of trust funds was done by (Cowling), without my knowledge and mostly after I left the partnership.’ Janeke is appealing the court order striking them from the roll, notes the report.

Article supplied courtesy of Legal Brief